By Said Ibicioglu
Yemeni refugees, mostly children who fled their homes due to the country’s ongoing conflict, face the specter of starvation due to a chronic lack of food supplies in refugee camps.
An Anadolu Agency reporter on Friday spoke to refugees and medical personnel at the Maarib state hospital (located in Maarib province east of Houthi-held capital Sanaa), who lamented war-weary Yemen’s harsh living conditions.
Zaynab Sare, who fled Sanaa amid the ongoing clashes, said her husband had left home to join the fighting, leaving her and her child alone to fend for themselves.
Emphasizing that her seven-month-old baby had been on the verge of starvation before being taken to the hospital, she said: “My baby was too weak even to cry. I’ve had to beg in the street because we’ve received no aid from charity organizations.”
Halima Salah, another refugee, said she was praying for the recovery of her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Wahda.
Salah said she had sought shelter at a refugee camp, but had been unable to find enough food there.
She added that her daughter was malnourished and had barely made it to the hospital without succumbing to hunger.
“My child’s condition has grown worse with each passing day; we can’t find enough food and water,” Salah said.
Infants at risk
Sadira Naji Mohamed, a nurse at the hospital's pediatric unit, confirmed that Salah's daughter had been in critical condition when brought to the hospital.
She went on to point out that an average of 50 malnutrition cases were coming to the hospital on a monthly basis.
"We are only able to take critical cases; there isn't enough room at the hospital. Non-critical patients must be treated outside," Mohamed said.
Ali Riyad, a pediatrician at the hospital, said that diarrhea and chest inflammation had become common among children due to rampant malnutrition.
Emphasizing that the first two years of a baby’s life are of critical importance to brain development, he explained that babies suffering from malnutrition -- which can adversely impact their immune systems -- were more prone to mental deficiencies and common diseases.
Amal Hussein, 7, a Yemeni child who has suffered the effects of famine, was recently taken to the hospital after her health condition deteriorated.
The New York Times recently put her story on the global agenda, but that wasn’t enough to save her life. In early December, the seven-year-old succumbed to the chronically difficult health situation she faced.
According to UNICEF, one Yemeni child dies from a preventable health problem every ten minutes, while some 1.8 million children in Yemen are currently suffering from malnutrition -- 400,000 of whom are in critical condition.
Women and children are the most vulnerable. Boys are frequently recruited by armed groups, while girls are forced into early marriages.
A quarter of Yemen’s children lack access to education and more than 2,500 schools cannot provide services as a result of the ongoing conflict.
According to UN data, 22 million Yemenis -- roughly 75 percent of the population -- depend on urgent humanitarian aid or protection. In the conflict’s fifth year, two million people have been displaced from their homes.
Yemen has remained wracked by violence since 2014, when Shia Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa and the key port city of Hudaydah.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.
The violence has devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, including its health and sanitation systems, prompting the UN to describe the situation as one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times.
Numerous factors such no access to clean water, malnutrition, lack of medication and medical equipment prompted a significant increase in epidemic diseases, particularly cholera.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara